What I wish I knew when I was applying to college

Updated: Dec 2, 2019

As application season pushes forward, I am reminded of my own (stressful) experience applying to college. I spent several months revising essays, filling out forms, retaking standardized tests. Perhaps the worst part of it all was being in a class full of other high-achieving students: the competition at my school was fierce, and I couldn’t be sure that other students in my class would be happy for me if I got into the schools I wanted. 


Many of us attend competitive high schools, while many of us just have competitive natures. This can make the college application season absolutely miserable: we feel as if our self-worth is on the line. What if our friends get in and I don’t? What if I don’t get into the school I’ve set all my hopes and dreams on? These questions can be debilitating. I’ve asked them all, and I’m here to remind you of a few things before you send off those applications. 





Your worth is not related to your admissions status. Whether or not you get into your dream school does not determine your success. You can be successful anywhere, as long as you put it your best effort and surround yourself with the right people. Just because you were rejected from X university does not mean you are dumb; it just means you weren’t what they were looking for, whatever that was. 


If you were rejected, stop agonizing over why they rejected you. The admissions committee will never tell you. And would it really make you feel better if you knew? Probably not. So, as hard as this advice might be to accept, try to stop asking why you were rejected. It won’t help anyone. 


Try to enjoy the process, wherever you can. It’s not fun: we know that. But it’s going to be a long process if you keep telling yourself that. If you enjoy math, relish in every SAT practice test you take. If you enjoy writing, put your heart and soul into answering who your idol is, what the most influential event in your life has been, why you want to attend X university. If you identify the things in your application where you can shine, do it — the admissions committee will notice, and these next few months will be a little more enjoyable.


Don’t treat this like a competition. It’s tempting; I know. It’s like taking an exam and asking your friends what results they got afterwards — irresistible! But stop yourself. Why would you want to introduce this tension into your friendships? You all have different interests and skill-sets, so you’re likely best suited to different places. Just because you went to the same high school doesn’t mean you should all be at the same university. Support each other’s journeys — but don’t be jealous of them. It’s just not worth it.


Make sure you have a good contingency plan. We’re all hoping, of course, that you get into your dream school — but make sure you know where you’re going if you don’t. Create a solid list of reach, target, and safety schools. Do your research: ensure that these schools are all strong in your areas of interest. Just because they’re not your ideal school doesn’t mean they can’t be excellent — and, in some cases, even better for you than you’d ordinarily imagine. 


We are rooting for you! But remember always that your university acceptances/rejections aren’t related to your success or your future. And that this process doesn’t have to be all that bad.


(Photo from Forbes.com.)

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